As the gamergate controversy continues to roil the video game world, one man has taken glee in fueling the flames — a London-based, right-wing social media celebrity who has become a darling among hyper-masculine gamers.
To his detractors, Milo Yiannopoulos is a glorified Internet troll whose overblown rhetoric can be dangerous. But Yiannopoulos, 31, casts himself as a heroic defender of online free speech.
"I enjoy upsetting the right people," Yiannopoulos said, as he sipped tea during a recent stop in Los Angeles. "I love poking fun at earnest censors. I want to push the bounds of what can be said on the Internet."
This week's decision by South by Southwest festival organizers to cancel two video game panels at next year's event has reignited last year's fiery debate over gender and diversity in video games.
Many feminist gamers argue that video games are brazenly sexist, routinely depicting women as scantily clad sex objects and often targeting them for violence. In response, a group identifying itself as gamergate emerged last year contending that feminists and others are trying to make games adhere to their narrow agenda.
Yiannopoulos became a leading champion of the gamergate camp. In an online essay last year, he described gaming as coming under siege by an "army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners" who are "lying, bullying and manipulating their way around the Internet for profit and attention."
Speaking by phone from London this week, Yiannopoulos decried the decision by SXSW to cancel two panels that would have served as a forum for the debate over gaming, diversity and harassment of women, calling it a thinly veiled attempt to censor pro-gamergaters like himself. Although SXSW cited threats of violence in canceling the panels, Yiannopoulos blamed the action on feminist activists (even though they have also denounced the cancellations).
"Feminism has leveled up from banning its opponents to banning entire debates. They just don't want the discussion to be had," he said. "No one seriously believes there's any physical danger to anyone — and if there is, it's only to the gamergate side, not the feminists."
Samantha Blackmon, an associate professor at Purdue University and a feminist gamer and games scholar, contends that the ideas espoused by Yiannopoulos minimize serious threats to women.
She said harassment can take various forms, like "doxxing," which is the obtaining and publishing of personal information, and verbal slurs.
"These things have very real tangible and intangible consequences," she said.
Born in Greece and raised primarily in Britain, Yiannopoulos is a college dropout who eventually found his way into journalism, covering technology at the Telegraph.
The ultra-conservative news site Breitbart, based in L.A., recently named him its new technology editor, giving him an even larger platform to hold forth on gaming, Silicon Valley and online culture in general. (He has contributed to the site as a columnist for more than a year.)
He's offended not just feminists, but has criticized the group Black Lives Matter for perpetuating "grievance culture" and has pilloried diversity quotas in the tech sector, saying that "there's just no good, sane reason why we should socially engineer artificial gender splits."
He's even attacked the minority group he is a member of — gays — saying, "it's a shame that gays who ought to be pushing boundaries have been domesticated and tamed and turned into pets by the progressive left."
Yiannopoulos claims that he too has been harassed, with bomb threats and even a dead animal in the mail. He said he doesn't take these threats seriously.
"Of all the threats to free speech in history," he explained, "the one the media give the most credibility to without question is the feminist movement, which is trying to rebrand public debate as harassment."
He said he isn't opposed to equal rights, but rather abhors victim culture and what he sees as attempts by "social justice warriors" — leftist online activists — to silence debate.
During his recent trip to L.A. earlier this month, he crashed the SlutWalk protest, an event organized by former stripper Amber Rose to raise awareness of sexual assault and celebrate female sexuality.
He tweeted photos of himself at the event holding a sign: "Rape culture and Harry Potter: Both Fantasy."
Yiannopoulos has used Twitter to go after feminist gaming activists including Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu.
Earlier this year, Yiannopoulos offered to donate $5,000 to Sarkeesian's site, Feminist Frequency, or to a charity of her choice if she would debate him about sexism in gaming at the E3 conference. She didn't accept the challenge.
Quinn and Sarkeesian didn't reply to requests for comment. Wu declined to comment when reached via email.
In his new role at Breitbart, Yiannopoulos will oversee breaking news coverage of the tech field. But he is also expected to continue his brash, caustic style of cultural commentary.
"We're very much pro-free speech," said Alexander Marlow, Breitbart's editor in chief, in a separate interview.
"There's a new dividing line — those who want to control speech and those who are anti-establishment," Marlow said. "The left's new position is to control speech, claiming that they're a victim. Gamergate was ultimately a free speech issue."
Yiannopoulos describes himself as a spiritual descendant of William S. Burroughs and Quentin Crisp, cultural iconoclasts who mixed mischief with social criticism.
With his new Breitbart platform, he said he plans to take on social justice warriors in Silicon Valley, particularly those who are banging the diversity drum.
"They are a disease," he said. "They've gone from irritant to impediment and are now costing businesses money. They're a menace, and no one else has the … to take them on. But I will."